Wythenshawe MP backs Manchester lawyer calling for end to legal aid cuts after being paid £255 for seven months work
A Manchester solicitor is calling on the government to reverse cuts to legal aid after it was revealed by Wythenshawe MP Mike Kane this week that she was paid just £255 for seven months work.
Catriona McLauglin, a solicitor advocate, based in Manchester says criminal lawyers are leaving the profession because of the cuts, denying access to justice to some of the most vulnerable people accused of crimes.
And the independent body which represents solicitors, the Law Society, who are mounting a legal challenge to the latest government cuts, say criminal defence lawyers could become extinct unless action is taken.
Catriona’s case, raised by Mike Kane in parliament, involved seven months of work representing a man in his sixties who had suffered a serious stroke. He was charged with handling stolen goods and possession of a bladed article.
He had been remanded in custody and the case involved numerous prison visits. Because of the stroke the defendant couldn’t speak, so all communication had to be written down, making the visits longer than they would have been otherwise. Catriona also spent a lot of time with the man’s family who were distraught when it was suspected he had suffered a further stroke in prison.
The defendant was represented in Manchester Magistrates Court and was due to be tried in the Crown Court, but thanks to the Catriona’s work, the man pleaded, avoiding the need for a trial and saving the state thousands of pounds. But under the legal aid system revamped by the government four years ago, the law firm was paid £255 for the work.
“This was a very complex and difficult case to deal with and at the end of it we got £255 for it,” said Catriona. And she told the Reporter the case is not unusual because of the way legal aid now works in which a fixed fee is set depending on the category of the offence and whether it goes to trial, regardless of the amount of hours put in by lawyers.
“It’s just been progressively getting worse and worse until now we are in the position where that is the fee we are being paid. It has just been cut after cut,” said Catriona.
“It’s difficult to justify putting in the hours for cases like this when you know you’re making a big loss every time. We are torn because of course we have duty to these people who are very vulnerable.
“Lots of firms have left the profession. Very few are left in predominantly criminal legal aid work, so you are ending up with a kind of legal advice desert. They are leaving the profession because it can’t work because the fees are so low.”
Mike Kane, challenged justice minister Lucy Frazer this week in parliament. He said: “My constituent Caitriona McLaughlin, who is a solicitor, was recently paid £255 for seven months’ work on a criminal legal aid case. Does the Minister think that this was enough?”
The minister replied: “It is obviously very difficult to comment on a particular rate in a particular case for a particular individual, but I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it. It is very important that criminal legal aid barristers and solicitors are paid appropriately for the amazing work that they do every day, up and down this country, in protecting the most vulnerable.”
Mr Kane said the government needs to take immediate action.
The Justice Minister Lucy Frazer has given me a written answer to my question in the chamber yesterday. If the Minister agrees criminal legal aid solicitors should be paid properly, her department needs to act now #TheLawIsBroken pic.twitter.com/4Df2DsPmjG
— Mike Kane (@MikeKaneMP) June 6, 2018
And the minister’s comments did not reassure Catriona McLauglin. She told the Reporter: “We have seen our fees slashed year after year. They are empty words not backed up with action.”
Catriona says the Law Society’s judicial review due to be heard next month would halt the most recent cuts to legal aid but more work would need to be done. She said most of the damage to the justice system was done by the the current under-fire transport boss Chris Grayling when he was justice secretary.
Grayling pressed ahead with “far reaching” reforms aimed at slashing £350 million off the legal aid budget despite warnings in 2013 that the plans could be “catastrophic”.
The Law Society says there is a recruitment crisis for criminal defence lawyers which is becoming an increasingly ageing profession. Data published by the Society shows that in some areas of the country, nearly 70 per cent of criminal lawyers are over 50. In Greater Manchester it is 41 per cent with just eight per cent under the age of 35.
Law Society president, Joe Egan, said: “The justice system is facing a cliff edge scenario; criminal duty solicitors are part of an increasingly ageing profession, and government cuts mean there are not enough young lawyers entering the field of criminal defence work.
“If this trend continues, in five to ten years’ time there could be insufficient criminal defence solicitors in many regions, leaving people in need of legal advice unable to access their rights.”
A person who is arrested on suspicion of wrongdoing has the right to ask for the local ‘duty solicitor’, who can provide legal advice free of charge. Duty solicitors are available twenty four hours a day and are independent of the police.
The police station advice scheme was set up in the wake of a series of scandals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a significant number of convictions were overturned due to police misconduct against suspects. These solicitors protect suspects against inappropriate treatment, and protect the police against false allegations of mistreatment.
“Criminal justice is at the heart of a democratic society and duty solicitors ensure a fundamental part of the justice system is upheld,” Joe Egan said.
“Twenty years without any increases in fees, and a series of drastic cuts have pushed the criminal justice system to the point where lawyers can no longer see a viable career doing this work.”
The Manchester College named their Wythenshawe site Howard House in an official VIP naming ceremony earlier today (23 March), in honour of former student and prolific fundraiser Kirsty Howard.
Kirsty’s family were VIP guests at the ceremony and unveiled the plaque announcing the new name of the recently-refurbished site to guests from the community, staff and local MP Mike Kane.
At the ceremony, Francis House Children’s Hospice was named the Group’s charity partner of the year in honour of Kirsty and was presented with a cheque for £5,000 to kick-start their fundraising efforts.
Phil Taylor, Director of the Kirsty Club and speaking on behalf of Francis House, said: “Thank you to the LTE Group for its very generous donation which will have a huge impact on the charity. Naming the building Howard House and fund-raising for Kirsty’s charity of choice is a wonderful tribute to her memory.”
The LTE Group has recently invested over £1.5m in upgrading the facilities at Howard House, which first opened in 2010, to house over 160 staff from the Finance, Health and Safety, HR, IT Services and Marketing and External Relations teams. The move has helped to consolidate group operations teams and promote closer collaborative working.
Wythenshawe and Sale East MP Mike Kane attended and spoke with the family, staff and students. The Labour Shadow Schools Minister said: “I’m delighted to have been invited here today. LTE Group’s investment in Howard House, and the surrounding site occupied by The Manchester College, represents a significant investment in Wythenshawe.
Today has also been an opportunity to remember and celebrate the life of Kirsty Howard. Speaking to Kirsty’s mum and dad I know they are very proud of their daughter’s achievements, not only as an unbelievable charity fundraiser but as a student at The Manchester College. Naming this building ‘Howard House’ will serve as a fitting and long-lasting tribute to Kirsty.”
The investment forms a key part of the Group’s estates strategy and its vision to transform the way it delivers leading post-16 education, training and skills.
John Thornhill, Chief Executive of the LTE Group said: “The Manchester College is incredibly proud to have supported Kirsty in her studies and we’re honoured to name the building Howard House, to reflect her connection to us and the local area.
“We will also be using the occasion – and other events throughout the year – to raise money for Francis House in her memory, including entering a team of LTE group runners in this year’s 10k Great Manchester Run on Sunday 20 May.
“Kirsty was, and continues to be, an inspiration to many in Manchester and she remains a fantastic example of the values which we encourage in our colleagues, students and learners.”
More than a third of children in Wythenshawe are living in poverty according to a report published by a leading charity this week.
Figures revealed by the End Child Poverty coalition shows that in the five local authority wards in Wythenshawe around 34 per cent of youngsters are in poverty after housing costs are taken into account.
The campaign blames the shockingly high levels of poverty in the most deprived areas of the country on benefits policy and price rises and is calling on the public to lobby MPs to urge the government to lift the freeze on benefits for children – currently in place until the end of the decade – so that families no longer see living standards squeezed as prices rise.
In Wythenshawe, 6.728 children are in poverty – defined as in families living on less than the median household income – with the highest concentration, 36 per cent in Woodhouse Park where 1,333 youngsters are below the breadline. The largest number of children in poverty in the town is in Sharston, 1,604, representing 35 per cent.
Wythenshawe’s MP, Mike Kane has called on the Government to take immediate action to tackle poverty. He told the Reporter: “Statistics published by the End Child Poverty Coalition this week on the levels of children living in poverty are a scandal.
“They are the result of this Conservative Government’s flawed policy of cuts and changes to the welfare system. My advice surgery is regularly attended by families who are struggling to make ends meet. It is a disgrace that in 2018 we have a growing need for food bank provision in Wythenshawe.
“As Wythenshawe’s MP I have called for a pause and rethink from the Government on the roll out of Universal Credit which is causing unnecessary suffering and hardship. It is becoming increasing clear that progress on tackling poverty has begun to unravel with falling state support and increasing in-work poverty. I believe this is completely unacceptable and the Government needs to act now.”
The research was carried out on behalf of End Child Poverty by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, led by Professor Donald Hirsch, and paints an even bleaker picture for other parts of Greater Manchester, with 62% of children in Coldhurst ward in Oldham living in poverty.
In Manchester’s Gorton and Central constituencies nearly half of the children there, 48 per cent, are below the poverty, with the figures for Rusholme and Moss Side both at 56 per cent. In Withington there are 34 per cent of children in poverty with the highest concentration in the Old Moat ward.
Since the introduction of the benefit freeze, the coalition of charities, faith groups and unions has warned that as prices rise, low income families would find it increasingly hard to pay for the same basic essentials.
‘It is scandalous that a child born in some parts of the UK now has a greater chance of growing up in poverty, than being in a family above the breadline’, said Sam Royston, Chair of End Child Poverty and Director of Policy and Research at the Children’s Society. ‘There can be little doubt that the Government’s policy of maintaining the benefits freeze despite rising prices is a major contributor to the emerging child poverty crisis.’
The coalition is also concerned that the impact of poverty may be exacerbated by a poverty premium – which means that low income families can face paying as much as £1700 per year more than better off families, to buy the same essential goods and services. A major contributor to this is the high cost of credit for low income families, and the coalition wants to see the Government address this by providing better access to interest free credit.
Sam Royston said ‘No family in modern Britain should be struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and clothe their children. End Child Poverty is calling on the Chancellor to end the freeze on children’s benefits, and to invest in interest free credit for low income families, to ensure that poverty doesn’t result in spiralling debt.’
A Government spokesman said: “The best route out of poverty is through employment, and since 2010 an extra three million more people are now in work and 600,000 fewer children are living in workless households.
“But we recognise that budgets are tight, and that’s why we’re helping families keep more of what they earn. We’ve doubled free childcare – worth £5,000 per child each year – while our £2.5 billion pupil premium programme is supporting two million disadvantaged schoolchildren across the country.”
Bosses in charge of the the £800 million Airport City project in Wythenshawe have said the scheme will not be affected by the collapse of one of its partners – construction giant Carillion.
Carillion, which employs 20,000 people and is understood to have public private partnership contracts worth £1.7 billion across the country, went into liquidation with debts of more than £900 million.
The troubled firm is one of five partners in a joint venture to deliver the enterprise zone aimed at stimulating the Greater Manchester economy by creating on-site logistics, manufacturing, office and leisure facilities. The other partners are Manchester Airport Group, Beijing Construction Engineering Group, the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. Read More…
A mystery shopping company has invested thousands in its new head office base in Wythenshawe.
Storecheckers, which has been in business for over 25 years, has expanded its operation, signing a five-year lease for its new head office in the town and employing extra staff.
The customer service improvement and market research experts will share their new office building with Wythenshawe MP, Mike Kane, who cut the ribbon at the official opening of their new base.
Mr Kane said: “I am delighted that Storecheckers have opened their new offices in Wythenshawe and are employing local people in their expansion programme.
“Wythenshawe is a great place to do business and I wish Storecheckers continued success.”
Storecheckers has an expanding team of full time head office staff supporting over 1000 researchers nationwide, many of whom are from the Greater Manchester area. Managing Director and customer service guru, Jeff Caplan, said: “It was a privilege to see our local MP formally open our new offices. He was an absolute gentleman and clearly cares a great deal about the town.
“We are really happy to have made the decision to stay in Wythenshawe and to have moved into our newly fitted out head office, which gives us more room to expand. The town is well-located and has excellent road and tram links, as well as great people and a willing workforce.
“It is a tough time for businesses with bricks and mortar which simply cannot afford to be turning away potential customers and tempting them to shop online through poor service. But this means that there is plenty of opportunity for businesses to invest in their customer experience and drive increased trade and consumer loyalty.
“This coupled with the fact that we have had long-standing relationships with northwest locations and businesses such as Timpson and Pets at Home, mean that investing in a bigger base in Wythenshawe and looking to expand our business makes perfect sense”.
Wythenshawe MP Mike Kane has signed a joint letter to parliament’s intelligence and security watchdog expressing grave concern about the leaking by US officials of the identity of the Manchester Arena bomber while police were still investigating the atrocity.
Salman Abedi, detonated the bomb, at the Ariana Grande concert, which killed 22 people in May. It was the deadliest attack in Britain since the 7/7 bombings in London.
The New York Times, named the suspected killer as Salman Abedi, and shared pictures of the crime scene hours before Manchester police revealed Abedi’s identity, after the details were leaked by US officials. Non-U.S. media followed, again citing U.S. sources.
It was feared at the time the leaks had compromised the fast-moving investigation by Greater Manchester Police.
Mr Kane signed the letter, along with other Greater Manchester MPs, the Leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese and Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham to the chairman of the parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.
And this week the Wythenshawe MP raised the issue with Home Secretary, Amber Rudd during a debate following the release of a report into terror attacks.
Mr Kane said: “Every Greater Manchester MP, Mayor Andy Burnham and Richard Leese, the leader of the city council, have signed a joint letter to the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee expressing our concern that Salman Abedi’s name was shared with our colleagues in America and subsequently leaked, placing Chief Constable Ian Hopkins and the investigation in an intolerable situation. Does the Home Secretary share our deep concern about that?”
The Home Secretary replied: “Many of us—not least my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—raised that issue with our opposite numbers, and such leaks are completely unwelcome and inappropriate.
“However, we must not underestimate our incredibly important close relationship with the US on intelligence sharing and support, and we must be cautious of any eventuality that might endanger that relationship. That sort of close intelligence sharing saves lives in this country.”
Shortly after the leak in May Mrs Rudd told the BBC police had been very clear that they wanted to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise and said the leak was “irritating”.
MP Mike Kane has assured residents living in tower blocks in Wythenshawe that none are fitted with the controversial cladding linked to Grenfell Tower tragedy in London last week.
The rapid spread of the fire in which at least 79 people are dead or missing presumed dead, is still being investigated but has been attributed to the use of a type of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding which is banned in Europe and, according to Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, is also banned in the UK.
Councils and housing associations across the country have been ordered to urgently check whether the tower blocks in their areas have been cladded using similar materials to those at the Grenfell Tower. Read More…